Bruce Schneier: Russia hacked NSA for Snowden docs

Security expert says Snowden not to blame for Russia and China getting hands on secret files

China and Russia have copies of Edward Snowden's leaked documents by hacking the NSA itself before the whistleblower even arrived in Russia, according to security expert Bruce Schneier.

He believes lax security controls at the US spy agency, rather than Snowden residing in Russia, being responsible for allowing foreign countries to get their hands on top secret documents.

The countries also have sophisticated hacking capabilities that far outstrip journalists' abilities to protect the leaked documents, Schneier wrote in Wired yesterday.

"The vulnerability is not Snowden; it's everyone who has access to the files," wrote Schneier.

"China and Russia had access to all the files that Snowden took well before Snowden took them because they've penetrated the NSA networks where those files reside.

"Remember that Snowden was able to wander through the NSA's networks with impunity."

He pointed to Russia's alleged hack of the White House network earlier this year, as well as suspected hacks from China on US government databases.

He added that journalists protecting the files after receiving them from Snowden would have struggled to fend off government-backed cyber hackers.

"It's been open season on the computers of the journalists Snowden shared documents with since this story broke in July 2013," he claimed.

"While they have been taking extraordinary pains to secure those computers, it's almost certainly not enough to keep out the world's intelligence services." 

Schneier's article was written in response to a Sunday Times front page story claiming MI6 has had to pull spies out of operations because Russia had cracked more than one million encrypted documents held by Snowden.

The story has since been widely panned by media, with other journalists pointing out inaccuracies such as the claim Snowden had fled to Russia in fact, he had been in Moscow en route to South America when the US revoked his passport, allowing Russia to hold him in transit.

Moreover, he said he left his documents with a contact in Hong Kong, pouring doubt on the article's claim he had the files when he landed in Russia.

Schneier said: "It's a terrible article, filled with factual inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims about both Snowden's actions and the damage caused by his disclosure."

The cryptographer said he had no doubt Snowden had encrypted the documents before landing in Russia, just as the whistleblower has claimed, because it's sensible and easy to do.

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